Union warns of further poverty if benefits aren’t brought in line with inflation

‘Attempting to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in society is fundamentally wrong at any time and it will be especially devastating for many workers in the midst of a cost of living crisis.’

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Low-paid workers in the retail sector will face further poverty if welfare benefits are cut by the government, warns Usdaw.

The trade union for retail workers has condemned the government for failing to guarantee an increase in Universal Credit (UC) and other welfare benefits.

A cost-of-living survey compiled by Usdaw of around 7,000 members, most of which were retail workers, shows the scale of hardship many in low paid jobs are battling with. Some survey participants spoke of how they are unable to afford to eat and are living off tea and toast at work.

One-year anniversary of UC uplift cut

October 6 marked the one-year anniversary of the cut to the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit (UC). The scrapping of the uplift, which was introduced in 2020 to help claimants during the pandemic, came as a sharp blow to around six million people already struggling to get by on low incomes.

A benefit uprating linked to the rate of inflation is traditionally announced in October. This year it is due to take place on the 19th. However, neither the prime minister nor the chancellor have said whether benefits will rise in line with inflation.

The Bank of England expects the rate of inflation to peak at 11 percent in October and remain above 10 percent for several months before beginning to come down.

‘Cruel’ Universal Credit cut

Paddy Lillis, general secretary at Usdaw, spoke of how, this time last year, the government inflicted a “cruel £20 per week cut to Universal Credit that cost claimants over £1,000 per year” and how those in power are refusing to do the right thing by providing assurance to low paid workers that their welfare benefits will rise with inflation.

“The government has also failed to promise that there won’t be cuts in public services, which many low-paid workers totally rely on. Attempting to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in society is fundamentally wrong at any time and it will be especially devastating for many workers in the midst of a cost of living crisis,” Lillis said.

An overhaul of the social security system

Usdaw has consistently called for a fundamental overhaul of the UC system and how the government supports the incomes of working people.

“We need a proper social security system that supports families and provides a proper safety net,” said Paddy Lillis.

The union is also calling for the uprating of minimum wage rates to be brought forward to October, instead of next April, and for the Low Pay Commission, which advises the government about the National Living Wage and the National Minimum Wage, to account for spiralling living costs.

“These measures together would not only give working people the dignity of properly paid and secure employment, but also reduce the need for Universal Credit payments,” Lillis added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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